Creating a successful website in today’s world has become increasingly difficult. In order for viewers to use your site you need to be visible, able capture their attention, and hold their interest. Fortunately, with the use of a content management systems (CMS), all three of these objectives can be made easier. A CMS is designed to simplify the process of publishing various forms of content to your site, providing a level of abstraction between that content and the code powering its presentation.
Now the question is which CMS should you go with for your site? There are many systems available, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. However, three of these CMS’ have positioned themselves as the most commonly used amongst web developers: Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress. All three of these are open source and have large communities of developers supporting the systems’ advancements.
Choosing the Right CMS
Let’s approach the question posed by this article objectively: In terms of which of the three major CMS’ is capable of achieving your desired goal for your site, the answer is any of them. They are all so widely supported, their core structures can be extended to accomplish any task.
Referring back to the three main objectives to creating a successful website mentioned in the first paragraph, site visibility has become increasingly important as more and more hits are made with search engines with any given set of keywords. Users must be able to easily find your site amongst the rest of the crowd, and the best way to do this is to optimize it for search engines. No CMS can completely manage search engine optimization (SEO), but they can help by automating search engine friendliness (SEF).
The second objective, capturing the user’s attention, is addressed once the user has found your site. The layout needs to be attractive and easy to digest while providing a clear focus on what your site is all about. This is primarily addressed by the visual design and organization of your site, which is often the most time-consuming part of site development.
Lastly, a great website will hold its user’s interest so they explore pages beyond the homepage and will return later for more information. This is supported by content which your site’s pages hold. Updating and contributing more material is vital to your site’s longevity.
In order to differentiate between the big three CMS’ we will use a set of criteria based off of these primary website objectives for comparison:
- Search engine friendliness
- Ease of structural and design development
- Site content management accessibility
Now that we have established criteria, let’s look at how each of these three CMS’ attempt to address them.
Being one of the first open source CMS, Joomla is a widely-used platform that powers many sites today. Although that number has tapered off slightly due to increased CMS competition, users are attracted to it’s easy to use interface and scalability options.
That being said, Joomla needs a bit of work out of the box to be search engine friendly. The URL of pages can be rewritten with some minor configurations to include the title of the page but the ID number will always need to be included. The title tag for each page will be set as whatever you name the article when creating the content, additional meta tags can not be configurable. Other meta tags, such as description and keywords may be set per article as well. More control over these meta tags can be granted with the use of extensions such as the SEO patch.
When it comes to development, Joomla has its strengths and weaknesses. Although it may be difficult to learn at first, Joomla’s content-based model offers a modular approach to theming the layout of your site. The system is extremely customizable, utilizing a model-view-controller (MVC) framework similar to many other APIs. This allows developers to override the Joomla core without compromising its integrity. Components, such as e-commerce carts, event listings and forums, can be installed. However, when comparing to Drupal, Joomla’s platform is not nearly as flexible. It covers basic functionality really well but more advanced tasks would require a lot more time to get working right. Examples of this include the lack of support for multiple site installations or communication between different components.
One of Joomla’s strength is its relatively simple administration interface. It does come with several useful features, such as a WYSIWYG editor, to make the management of content easier. Unfortunately, the number of configurable options available can, at times, be overwhelming and make it difficult to find where certain settings are. Practically anyone can be taught how to use it, but when comparing Joomla vs WordPress, it’s still not quite as intuitive.
Drupal has long been known as the developer’s CMS. Avid supporters of the platform are trying to change that image by introducing more user-friendly elements to the interface. The main objective for Drupal 7 was to retain the power Drupal is known for while making it more accessible to all users.
From an SEF standpoint, much like Joomla, Drupal requires a little configuration for optimal performance. “Clean URLs” can be activated, but all it does is switch the path for a page from ‘?q=node/83′ to ‘node/83′. Optionally, URL aliases can be set for each piece of content to make it more readable. While the title meta tags are automatically set to the title of the nodes, this, along with other meta tags can be further customized through installed modules such as Page Title or Nodewords.
Extensibility is where the flexibility of the Drupal system really shines. Thousands of modules are available for installation to tailor the CMS into practically anything imaginable. The API is extremely developer friendly, providing many safe ways to hook into the core. The back end support allows for an easier way to control content type to taxonomy relationships as well as user permissions than with the current version of WordPress. However powerful it may be, the development of an Drupal site will require a lot more time to complete because of all the modules needed to make everything work correctly. The theming of a Drupal site takes an approach similar to that of Joomla’s, where components are called from templates to inject the page with relevant information. Much like its structural flexibility, developing a skin for Drupal is relatively advanced once the API learning curve has been surpassed.
In Drupal’s case, being more developer friendly does not automatically make it more user friendly. This was clearly a CMS designed with developers in mind for developers to use. The menu structure of system options is very difficult to process for new-comers. Basic functionality that comes standard in Joomla or WordPress, such as a WYSIWYG editor or drop-down menus, are non-existent in the standard installation Drupal. The time required for training to manage a Drupal site, once complete, would be much greater than with Joomla or WordPress. Fortunately, hundreds of modules are available to make this process easier.
Once known only as a blogging tool, WordPress has developed into a powerful CMS force to be reckoned with. By remaining true to its usable interface, it has become the most widely-used CMS across the web.
Like Joomla and Drupal, WordPress’ SEF integration isn’t perfect. While the permalink URL rewrite format is fairly customizable, there are some caveats that must be adhered to for proper site navigation. Also similar to the other two CMS’, the title tags for pages are naturally set to post’s title. However, further control over this tag, as well as other meta tags, requires the installation of a plugin such as All in One SEO Pack.
What made WordPress a true competitor in the CMS battle was the introduction of custom post types and taxonomies with the release of version 3. Although they can be, at times, a little tricky to implement, they provide great flexibility to your site’s system and a more organized content structure. As with any API, there is a learning curve to WordPress’. It is very capable, although not as powerful as the Drupal platform. Because of the wide range of support for this CMS, there have been well over 10,000 plugins developed to make the scalability of WordPress seem like a breeze. The process to update these plugins, as well as the core itself, has also been streamlined to encourage the use of the latest versions to reduce security risks. Theming for WordPress relatively straightforward. Once an understanding of the template hierarchy has been achieved, the creation or modification of beautiful designs can be quick and painless. If design isn’t your strong suit, there are over 1,000 themes to choose from in the free themes directory, far more than Joomla or Drupal.
One distinct advantage WordPress has over its two main competitors is it’s simplistic approach to creating and managing content. When comparing Joomla vs WordPress, WordPress is still top dog in terms of usability. The back end interface is so intuitive, the training required for tasks ranging from creating a new post to adding an entire new page takes relatively little time. It is for this reason when trying out all various CMS’, users tend to stick with WordPress.
In the comparison of Joomla vs WordPress vs Drupal, the criteria can be met by one way or another. The real deciding factor comes down to what you really need your site to do in the end and how much time and effort you’re willing to put into it. Sites developed with WordPress can get done much quicker with the other two while providing a great administration user interface. Drupal may take a little longer to develop but is the route to go if you require flexibility when integrating different features. Joomla sites land somewhere in the middle of the other two, powerful and comparatively easy to use.
Our personal CMS preference for most sites is WordPress. The usability advantage it has over the other two allows our clients to not be so overwhelmed by its functionality and lets them feel more in control of their own site. Site management and plugin/core updates is simple enough to be handled exclusively by them, thus giving us more time to spend on other projects we may have. WordPress is fast, secure, and is constantly being improved at a faster rate than either Joomla or Drupal with major releases coming out every 4-6 months.
Returning to our original goal of creating a successful site, we need to understand that any CMS can only get us so far. The ideas and tone of the content must be unique to create a fresh and pleasant effect for our visitors. They need to be able to find it, be attracted to it, and remember it. All three of these objectives’ success rely on our own creativity and determination.